ELMONT, N.Y. — Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev could be lost for the season after having surgery Thursday in New York to stabilize fractures to the tibia and fibula bones in his lower left leg sustained during Wednesday’s loss to the Rangers.
Sergachev will return to Tampa in the coming days to begin rehabilitation immediately. The team has not yet established a timetable for his return to the ice.
With only 30 games remaining, it appears unlikely Sergachev would be able to return this season barring a deep playoff run by the Lightning. Even then, it would seem difficult.
Head coach Jon Cooper did not sound optimistic when asked before Thursday’s game against the Islanders if there is a scenario in which Sergachev could return this season.
“He’s going to miss significant time, and significant meaning the regular season,” Cooper said. “I’m not a doctor, and maybe even saying that much is going out of my comfort zone. But it’s going to be significant time, so we’re going to have to find a way to get by without him.”
Still, the Lightning have not entirely ruled out a return this season. They will know more in the coming days as Sergachev recovers from the operation and is reevaluated by the team’s specialists.
The typical recovery time from a broken fibula and tibia is three to six months. It took Lightning captain Steven Stamkos about four months to recover from a tibia fracture in 2013, though Sergachev’s rehab is expected to be less complicated because the breaks were clean.
Sergachev had just returned to the lineup after missing 17 games with a left foot injury. He was hit by a puck during a game against the Blues Dec. 19 at Amalie Arena.
Seven minutes into the second period Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Sergachev exchanged hits with Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere as they battled for the puck near the corner boards. Sergachev went down awkwardly, his left leg bending at an unnatural angle underneath him.
“It was hard to see; I was on the ice with him,” defenseman Erik Cernak said. “I know how excited he was to be back in the lineup and be around the team, be in games. It’s a really hard bounce for him, but I know how strong Sergy is. He’s going to come back stronger than ever. I’m going to give him all the support or whatever he needs. He’s our brother.”
It was immediately clear Sergachev had suffered a serious injury, and he was taken off the ice sitting up on a stretcher as both benches cleared to show their support. He received an ovation from the crowd and raised his left hand to acknowledge the fans before disappearing down the Zamboni tunnel.
“Injuries happened in this game,” Cooper said. “The problem was the significance of the injury, and the optics of it makes it more tough. These guys understand that players are going to miss time, and I don’t know what team has ever gone injury-free the entire year. The magnitude of what happened is what was troubling. But that’s professional hockey, and Sergy is always going to be with us, just not on the ice right now.”
Hours after sustaining the injury, Sergachev expressed his frustration in an emotional Instagram post. Getting hurt so soon after working hard to get back into the lineup “feels fair, feels terrible,” he wrote. He acknowledged things are tough right now but vowed to come back stronger and play better than before. “We all fight our own battles, and this is mine,” he wrote. I’ll win, always do.”
With Sergachev out, Calvin de Haan returned to the lineup as the Lightning’s third left-shot defenseman, behind Victor Hedman and rookie Emil Lilleberg. The team has a fourth left-shot defenseman on the roster in Haydn Fleury.
The Lightning have overcome major injuries to their top players in the past.
They won the Stanley Cup in 2020 mostly without Stamkos and played the entire 56-game 2021 season without Nikita Kucherov before winning their second straight Cup. This season, they stayed afloat despite opening the season without goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for nearly two months, then played their best hockey — winning eight of nine before the All-Star break — without defensemen Sergachev and Erik Cernak, and forward Tanner Jeannot.
“This group has been together for a long time,” Cooper said. “Injuries and adversity is going to happen. It seems like it’s happening in a large way with us at times, and especially right now. But the guys don’t hang their head. It’s just of next man up, and I know that’s a cliche, but they’ve kind of taken that upon themselves.
“(We’ve lost) monumental players on our team, and the guys have found a way, and I’m sure they will during this one as well.”
Sergachev is the Lightning’s highest-paid defenseman with an annual average value of $8.5 million, so placing him on long-term injured reserve will create significant cap space as the March 8 trade deadline approaches and allow general manager Julien BriseBois to cast a wider net for trade deadline targets.
Still, it won’t necessarily change the way BriseBois approaches the deadline. The Lightning still have cap restraints next season despite an anticipated $4 million increase to the cap ceiling. Given the desire to re-sign Stamkos in the offseason, any target likely would have to be a player on an expiring contract.
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